From the Word Magazine, March 1967, Page 6-7
Life’s Greatest Gain or Loss
A Lenten Meditation for the Third Sunday in Lent
By VERY REV. FATHER MICHAEL BAROUDY, Pastor Emeritus
St George’s Orthodox Church, Vicksburg, Mississippi
WHOSOEVER WILL COME AFTER ME,.let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mark: Ch.8:34-37.)
The above words were spoken by our Lord as He and His disciples were journeying toward the holy city of Jerusalem, just about a month or so before His death. Although the disciples had spent more than three years with Jesus, followed him on all his missionary journeys through Judes, Samaria and Galilee, heard him preach to thousands of people and heal as many thousands, they were unable to understand the full significance of his coming. They were right in accepting him as theirs and the world’s Redeemer, but they were wrong in believing that he was to redeem them by the use of force.
They were laboring under the mistaken notion that the Messiah would organize an army of zealous Israelites, and, by a brilliant stroke of arms, was to dislodge and destroy the Romnans under whose heels they were smarting for so long.
The time had come when Jesus felt it was no longer practical for his followers to remain in doubt about his mission. The shadow of the cross was looming ever greater in his sight and these men were to be prepared for the great shock So Jesus as gently as he could broke the tragic news to them. “We are going to Jerusalem and the Son of Man will be delievered into the hands of the Scribes and Pharisees, and be killed, and the third day he will rise again.” And what happened when this took place? Did the disciples believe what he was saying? Not at all! Peter, as the spokesman of the disciples said, “Far be it from you Lord.” In answer, thus pronounced what might be termed the most straightforward statement as to what it takes to be a follower of Jesus, one which contains a marvelous paradox, revealing the Christian way of life and the definite attitudes necessary to a full-fledged personality.
The first is a man’s attitude toward himself. “Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself.” From this we learn that a person must first conquer himself, be the master over himself, able to deny his flesh any and everything which may bring about his downfall. The very first fort which you and I must take by storm and conquer is our own selfish desires, aims, and purposes. Self is man’s worst enemy and as long as that remains unconquered, roaming at large, so to speak, as long as the flesh holds sway over our better judgment and as long as it is the master, we have to serve its desires. In other words, self must be crossed out, kept under control.
A boy went to church with his mother one day and seeing the lighted cross on the altar asked. “Mother, what is that,” pointing his finger at the cross. She answered, “It is a cross but what does it look like to you?” He answered, “It looks like the letter ‘I’ crossed out!” Which means, in the last analysis, that self-expenditure, self-abnigation must be present in the Christian life.
All the world’s ills spring from unbridled self desires, uncontrolled human beings to who sensuality is freedom. There is nothing more pitiful than to see people the slaves of bad habits, to whom the world is an opportunity for selfish pleasures, and who never takes stock of themselves to realize the sad results of their behaviors. You hear people say they cannot forego -some bad habits, although they know these are bringing injury to them body and soul. These people have arrived to that state of behavior only by their own consent. This is due to abject surrender on their part God made you and me the monarchs of our souls, the protectors and the custodians of the forts of our spirits. Nothing and no one can force us to do anything without our consent.
Second, we learn from Jesus’ great pronouncement what a person’s attitude should be toward the world. “Let him take up his cross …”
The cross of Christ is the central theme of Christianity- because it represents the redeeming love of God in Christ, the gift of his life for the sins of humanity. It meant, not only a cross for Christ, but likewise, a cross for everyone of his followers, identity with Him in His suffering, ability to nail every lustful habit and degrading practice to his cross. It meant death and crucifixion to the flesh. Taking up our cross may mean bearing the burden which life imposes upon us faithfully and patiently. Everyone is bound to have a burden of some sort or another which may either crush him or make him a stronger person. None of us is immune from trouble. “Man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upward,” they say. But the issue will be decided by the way you and I demean ourselves when the hour comes. The brightest pages of history were made bright by the men and women who endured as seeing him who is invisible, who by their stamina and courage made the world a better place in which to live.
One wonders that in Christian America, where we boast of freedom of worship, Christian civilization and culture, that there could be so much greed, big-time gambling and fraud in high places, involving men, reputedly Christians, in a scandal that makes us hang our heads in shame. We are told that corrupt politicians and local administrations, in some of our larger cities, have accepted bribes by the millions to connive, and even shield gangsters and gamblers. What will become of America depends very largely on the stand which God-honoring, law-abiding citizens will take. Greed and secularism are spreading and unless these conditions are checked, no one knows what will become of America, the citadel of the Christian faith.
Third and last, your attitude and mine is determined by the extent and willingness to follow the Captain of our souls, the Author and Finisher of our faith who said, “And follow me.” Jesus and Jesus alone is our example, the norm by which we measure ourselves; To follow in His footsteps is by the war of the cross, bitt it will inevitably and surely lead to glory. This is what Jesus meant when He said “He that finds his life shall lose it and he that loses his life for my sake shall find it.” Then he added this important statement. “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul, and what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”
There is perhaps no greater warning anywhere which our Lord reveals to us than in the statement just quoted. Many people today are losing their souls behind store counters. and other commercial enterprises, greed and lustful pleasures. They live for the present without any serious regard for the future. To them the pursuits of happiness is to fulfill and gratify the animal part of their being, while starving the spiritual. To live for the physical, the eternal, is to end in futility and frustration, according to Jesus. “For what shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul.”
The richness of life depends very largely on what we have chosen to live for. Those who live for self and make the creature comforts and material gains the chief end of life, are choosing the least rewarding end. We who are seeking to live for God, His Kingdom and His righteousness have chosen the best part. The thrill of being a part of so great a meaning and purpose is beyond putting into words. A whole new world of meaning begins to open to us as the spiritual becomes the object of our highest living.
Some pagans go far in the fine art of loyalty. The real lovers of Jesus go further. Consider a Japanese who immediately after his government surrendered to General MacArthur set out to commit suicide. That was the only honorable way he could think of to demonstrate how attached he was to his overlord, the Mikado. While on his way to the jumping-off place, he came across a Christian pastor to whom he confessed what he was about to do.
“Go ahead,” said the pastor. ‘Throw your life away. Let it die, then surrender your life to Christ. There is a new life awaiting you in God. Help us build an orphanage. It is waiting for such a person as you to take charge. If you do, children made orphans by the war, will have a chance to learn what it is to have a home.”
The man who was once in despair is now the head of a little flourishing community. He is happily married to a nurse who, shortly after he threw himself into his new work, became his assistant.
Sometime ago, the writer saw in one of the religious magazines a cartoon of’ Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ hanging upon a cross, which to my mind suggests the four steps necessary to a full-fledged Christian personality in the light of the cross of Christ:
“Ah, the bitter shame and sorrow
That a time could ever be,When I let my Savior’s pity
Plead in vain; and proudly answered,
“All of self and none of Thee.”
Yet He found me; I beheld Him
Bleeding on that cursed tree,
Heard Him pray. “Forgive them, Father,”
And my wistful heart said faintly,
“Some of self and some of Thee.”
Day by day His tender mercy
Healing, helping, full and free,
Sweet and strong, and oh! so patient,
Brought me lower while I whispered,
“Less of self and more of Thee.”
Higher than the highest heaven,
Deeper than the deepest sea,
Lord, Thy love at last has conquered;
Grant me now my spirits longings,
“None of self and ;all of Thee!”.